How to keep kids safe online: Understanding social media

Has your child got a social media account? If not, have they asked for one?

In today’s connected world, most kids and teens are now on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, often spending multiple hours scrolling through them every day.

Of course, many parents try to enforce a blanket ban when it comes to social media, considering only the negative aspects and risks of putting a profile online. And while they’re definitely not misguided in their fears, it’s important to remember some of the really positive elements that social media brings to the table.

Social media allows you to stay connected with friends and loved ones who might be abroad. It enables the sharing of ideas and other interests. It keeps you up to date with charities and causes you might like to support, and it provides a platform to collaborate with others in your academic groups.

All these things are the very reason social media exists, however with them comes a range of risks to kids who don’t know the importance of online safety and how to make informed decisions about how they act (and react) online.


The risks of social media & social networking sites

Online predators

Without fully understanding the consequences of their actions, kids offer up personal information like their full name, birthday, which school they go to and what they look like.

When discussing these issues with kids and teens, many admit to being contacted online by someone who they didn’t know.

With the introduction of social media platforms that reveal a users’ location, these risks have now expanded to potential physical encounters with people who may mean our kids harm.

Tip: To help your child mitigate the risks of being targeted by internet predators, talk to them about:

  • Never ‘friending’ someone you don’t know, even if they add you first
  • Utilising privacy settings online
  • Why it’s important to use the computer in a family area
  • Why they shouldn’t reveal their full name, school, or identifiable images
  • What they should do if someone contacts them or makes them feel uncomfortable online


Reputational Damage

As well as predatory vulnerabilities, incorrect use of social media can lead to long term reputational damage. Once something has been posted online, whether it be an image or a negative comment, it’s near impossible to completely delete it from the internet.

This becomes especially harmful when other kids use this as ammunition to hurt or embarrass the poster. It can also cause long-term grief for kids applying to tertiary institutions and new employers who might decide to complete digital background checks.

Tip: To ensure your child protects their reputation online, talk to them about the following things:

  • Always think hard before posting an image or comment
  • Consider ways in which it may be used against you in the future
  • Remind them that it can never fully be removed once it has been posted
  • Ask them to think “would I want my parents / grandparents to see this?”
  • Book a free session on Positive Use of Technology with Kids Helpline



Cyberbullying is possibly the most common issue with social media for young people. As a form of public humiliation, cyberbullying can make the victim feel completely alone, like the whole world is against them. As it spreads so rapidly, it can also be quite difficult to understand how to stop cyberbullying.

Tip: If your child is experiencing online bullying, here are a few tips of how you can deal with it:

  • Tell the bully that it’s not okay
  • Say something positive to your child
  • Make sure they’re okay
  • Take screenshots as evidence
  • Help your child block and report cyberbullying
  • Get them to leave the group or conversation
  • If needed, contact the police or the eSafety Commissioner
  • Seek help from Kids Helpline
  • Help them find offline activities in the real world to take their mind off it

For more info and help with online harassment, head to Kids Helpline’s article on cyberbullying. If you feel that your child is cyberbullying another child, check out some tips on what you can do here.


Inappropriate content 

Spending extended periods of time online also opens the possibility of being exposed to inappropriate content. This could include things like graphic violent or sexual material posted by friends, or even public pages that they might follow.

Many kids also acknowledge the fact that they have been targeted by inappropriate social media marketing and material as a result of falsifying their age.

Tip: Some of the things you can do to help protect your child against inappropriate content online include:

  • Monitor the people and pages your child follows
  • Talk to them about what they shouldn’t view and why
  • Utilise parental controls
  • Request they use the computer in a family area where they can be monitored

For more info on discussing online pornography with your child, head to the eSafety Commissioner’s webpage here.


Physical and mental health

Putting all this aside, spending too much time online simply isn’t healthy. Increased use of social media, chat rooms and instant messaging has led to a rise in mental health issues and physical inactivity among young people.

When a young person sees one of their friends or public figures constantly posting pictures of themselves, it can make their life feel inadequate. The life that is portrayed online is only a segment of the complete picture, yet young people often don’t consider this.

Tip: If you feel like social media is impacting your child’s physical or mental health, try:

  • Limiting the time they’re allowed to spend online
  • Encouraging them to participate in physical activity with you or their friends
  • If their mood has changed, talk to them about what’s going on in their life
  • Explain to them about social media perceptions vs reality
  • Seek help from a counsellor or online resource like Beyond Blue & Kids Helpline


How to keep kids safe online

Knowing when and how to set limits for your child can be a challenge for many parents; not one size fits all. Time isn’t the only factor to consider either. Things like age and maturity, what kinds of content are being viewed and how it’s impacting their school or family commitments should also come into the equation.

If you’ve noticed that your child is becoming withdrawn, losing interest in activities, constantly tired or moody, not doing so well at school or other abnormal behaviours, there’s a chance that they may be forming an unhealthy attachment to certain sites and web-based games.

Tip: If you feel your child is spending too much time online, consider trying some of the following:

  • Monitoring what it is they are doing online
  • Try to engage them in positive, offline activities
  • Find some fun things you can do together online – making it a social activity
  • Avoid limiting online time as a punishment – this makes them want to do it more
  • Involve them in creating a plan for internet usage
  • Take advantage of parental controls
  • Set boundaries during dinner, before bedtime, etc
  • Keep devices out of the bedroom overnight

For more info on limiting the time your child spends online, head to the eSafety Commissioner’s webpage here.  


The Junior Leader Program

Oftentimes, children need a holiday away from their devices to realise what it is they’re missing from the outside world. Especially for kids who are demonstrating negative or disrespectful behaviours towards their parents, teachers and peers, encouraging participation in outdoor activities and socialising with other kids is one of the best ways to detach them from their devices.

As part of our 9-day program, participants are exposed to a range of fun and engaging activities that help to teach them our core values of respect, resilience, courage, honesty, teamwork and initiative. While many kids come to us with technology dependence issues, our program is also fantastic for kids demonstrating poor behaviours, low self-esteem and lack of respect.

Follow the link to learn more about the Junior Leader Program.


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